Germany: Memories of a Nation
By: Neil MacGregor
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Whilst Germany’s past is too often seen through the prism of the two World Wars, this series investigates a wider six hundred-year-old history of the nation through its objects. It examines the key moments that have defined Germany’s past its great, world-changing achievements and its devastating tragedies and it explores the profound influence that Germany’s history, culture, and inventiveness have had across Europe.
I believe I first came across this book as it was reviewed on The Economist. I think. Anyway this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the topic of examining German history from its artefacts and cultural products; I first came across this approach in grad school when we were discussing Germany in the post-Berlin Wall period. The perspective is interesting, and in a way more tangible in determining the changes and character associated with a people’s history and identity. So I was pretty excited to check out this book.
This book did not disappoint. In fact, I could not put this book down once I started reading it. My knowledge of German history isn’t too in-depth and is usually in relation to another European country, so this book served as a good introduction into in-depth German history and its complexity with all of the different regions and principalities that eventually came together in unity as a German nation. But their differences and their cosmopolitanism shows in their regional specialties and local histories, what has been retained with unification and how they dealt with major upheavals over the course of centuries. No stone is left unturned as this book looks at both the highs and the lows in German history and how they shaped Germany as we know it now.
I really liked the way the book was structured, centered around a central idea of German identity and history and breaking down the chapters and sections to focus on a particular item or category, such as art or porcelain works or monuments. It makes for easy reading that reminds the reader what the author is trying to convey through his work (I mention this because I was reading another book focusing on a particular structure of significance but the structure of the book was different).
I could not think of any critique about this book as I was reading it. The premise and arguments were well-presented and pretty solid, the accompanying images very useful–adds to the visual element that this book is conveying–and it was all around a very informative read. If you’re looking to read more about German history and don’t know much about it, this is a very good place to start.